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This is Part 8 of a series of posts on leadership. In this post we continue our investigation of the qualities great leaders demonstrate. Not every great leader possesses all these traits, but they recur among those we commend as great leaders.

Talent vs Skill

Talent refers to an innate ability, while skill is a learned asset. While even those with no natural talent to lead can be leaders, only those with talent excel at it.

We’ve all known leaders who rose to their position by virtue of promotion. Being elevated to being the boss is often a reward for being a good employee. Many organizations promote people who are good workers. The idea that prevails in many organizations is that you keep getting promoted to the level of your incompetency. Many have made it to supervisor, manager, foreman or lead because they were good workers, but they aren’t leaders, so they aren’t promoted any higher.

Great leaders have an inner inclination to lead. That’s what often gets them started leading. But what separates the great from the good is that the great recognize talent can only take them so far. They also need to develop the skills to lead. They need to increase their capacity to communicate. They need new tools in their leadership toolbox to deal with different people and situations. Remember: Leaders have a leader’s mind, so they are always looking for ways to enhance their ability and help others achieve their potential.

2 Peter 1:5 • But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge.

Most great leaders are readers. They read across a wide front, knowing they’ll glean insights from fields well beyond the scope of their vision and work. They tend to hang out with people who’ll challenge them and shake up their routine. While great leaders spend a lot of time with their team, when it’s their own time, they tend to hang out with people like them, that is, other good leaders.

Character vs Talent

We turn now to talk about the far more important issue of Character vs Talent. Talent can gather a crowd. Only character can keep it. Too many gifted leaders blow up because their charisma isn’t backed up by integrity. Nothing can replace character when it comes to that trust which is central to the Leader-Follower relationship.

There is so much that could and should be said about this. Let me distill it to this: The leader’s character needs to be deeper and more solid than its public expression. She/He needs to have more “under the hood” than the paint job promises.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said our piety in prayer, fasting and charity was to be done quietly, behind the scenes; not in a showy fashion. The leader who cultivates an image of integrity, but doesn’t deliver on it daily is a disaster waiting to happen. Again: Talent can draw a crowd and get them moving with an inspiring vision. Only the solid character of the leader can keep them over the long haul.


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